Where Do We Go from Here?
Following Mr. Donofrio’s remarks, workshop attendees were again asked to participate in breakout discussions on the topic of where we go from here. The specific questions were: What obstacles remain? What research should be done? What are the policy implications?
Group 1 Summary
FIRST Robotics Competition and AnthroTronix
First, to get more young people excited about engineering careers, we need to publicize diverse engineering teams doing great things, and we need to show teacher successes—how great teaching can be and how successful it can be. We also need to publicize the best-practice programs in education and in industry.
Second, we want the NAE to establish a new award promoting K through 16 education, or maybe two or three awards, one for K through 6, one for grades 6 through 12, and one for 12 through 16. We need some awards, and we also need to increase the visibility of, and appreciation of, teachers.
Finally, homeland defense could be our next space race model. Effective homeland defense will require engineers. We need to communicate this need to our national leadership and make it clear that we can’t have engineers without strong K through 16 education and good teachers (with increased pay and increased respect).
We have talked a lot about issues that have been talked about ad nauseam before, such as the image of engineers in our society, suggested improvements, best practices. Our question is how all of this can be incorporated into the
workshop report. We don’t know how to capture best practices and important suggestions in one report.
Peggy Layne (National Academy of Engineering): I can tell you that the NAE has established a new award, the Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, which will be presented for the first time in 2002. The award recognizes an inspirational, innovative educator in engineering. The Gordon Prize addresses the 12 through 16 segment, but doesn’t apply to pre-college education.
Group 2 Summary
U.S. Department of Labor
In our group, we talked about overarching themes. We know we don’t do a good job of tracking children in K through 12 into engineering. One of the problems may be that K through 12 teachers do not have a good idea of what engineering is and why it is important. Most of them don’t understand that everything that makes our lives good has been developed by engineers. We believe that the NAE Committee on Diversity in the Engineering Workforce could play a pivotal role in carrying out our ideas by focusing on educating teachers and developing workshops or modules for teachers in K through 12, particularly grades 4, 5, 6, and 7, to show them how exciting engineering can be and how rewarding and exciting being an engineer can be. A related problem is counselors in the schools, who are educated in the same programs as teachers. Counselors are supposed to help students choose their career paths, but very often they have little impact. The NAE committee could focus its efforts on counselors, as well as teachers, educating them so that they can educate children. They could go a long way toward motivating women and minorities to enter engineering schools.
One of our members suggested that we treat the whole issue as an engineering problem and set goals, decide on deliverables, and break down implementation strategies. The NAE committee might be able to follow up on our IBM speaker’s suggestion about consolidating some of the groups representing minorities to work together and send a single message rather than a cacophony of different messages.
There is some question about whether or not engineering faculties themselves are well grounded in educational processes. They may need a checklist of ways to encourage diversity in the classroom and responses to students of diverse backgrounds. Do they respond differently to white males than to women or minorities? The classroom can provide an environment in which students know they are welcome. We recognize that most educators have been getting
this kind of information for 20 years, but the faculty in engineering schools may not be getting it. That may be a gap we can fill.
Finally, as a society, we may have to provide funds for engineering students, using the public health model—if you want to pursue a particular kind of education, then you have to work in the Public Health Service for a few years afterwards. That model might be very helpful for inner-city students
Group 3 Summary
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering
We started by asking about research needs, but first we decided to take a step back and talk about the underlying issues. First, a member of the group noted that the public will to ensure educational equity does not exist; the public, Joe and Jane Average, are not really involved and don’t have the will to make changes. Someone else pointed out that no strategies for change had been offered. The problem of educational equity seems so vast that people just say, oh, my, it is like the bogeyman. I don’t want to deal with this. We need to set boundaries for the problem, define it, and present it in a way that makes Joe and Jane Average believe that they can do something about it. Part of our frustration in the NAE Diversity Forum, and even in these meetings, is that there is so much to be done that we don’t know where to start. We decided to limit our discussions to things that are doable, that we could actually start on.
Another topic was the preparation of teachers. In his opening remarks yesterday, NAE President Wulf suggested that people find engineering repugnant, but I am not convinced of that. It is just that people don’t have a clear idea of what engineering is because we haven’t made it real to them. That is what our strategies and actions must do. To that end, we decided, after much discussion, that we should take a long-term approach to the problem, at the same time recognizing that companies will want to see results quarter by quarter. Some things will have to be done as we go along, but overall, we should adopt a long-term approach. The discussion focused on K through 12 education because, as everyone knows, if we don’t fix that, we will be talking about these same issues 10 and 20 years down the road. As Nick Donofrio said this morning, not much has changed in the last 30 years. To make changes, we have to start with K through 12 education.
There are two issues related to K through 12 education that people on the outside would love to separate; but we believe they cannot be separated. We must not force people or ask people or encourage people or allow people to decide they are going to advocate for one or the other. If we don’t address both issues, we will not succeed. If a child does not leave the fourth grade with proper reading and comprehension skills, there is no way he or she will be able
to do the middle school math that will lay the foundation for more complicated material. As advocates for K through 12 education, we must focus on reading and comprehension skills in preschool through fourth grade, and then, in middle school, when the students already have a good educational foundation and are already excited about learning, we must focus on the certification of math and science teachers who can propel students on to the upper grades. We want corporations in particular to be advocates for, and to allocate their resources in both of these areas.
We talked about three specific actions we want corporations, government agencies, and educators to take. This morning, we were encouraged to bring our minority organizations together as one. Recognizing the need for national teacher certification and that many school districts do not have enough resources, we would like to see corporate America come together as one to develop a national institute for teacher certification in math and science. This institute would not belong to any particular corporation but would be supported by all of the corporations that have committed dollars and other resources.
Second, we want to leverage the power of the Internet. Many of you will remember back in the late 1970s or early 1980s when Channel 1 first brought educational television to the classroom. We want a virtual presence that would bring engineering into the middle school classroom, a sort of virtual-age Channel 1. The kids and teachers could use it however they wanted. We could, perhaps, build some curricular material around it, but mostly it would be a resource for teachers who simply don’t have the information they need or the resources to get it. By forming virtual partnerships with them, we would provide those resources. We believe the Internet offers a way to do that. We also want companies to move away from sending individuals into the classroom to talk to 30 or 40 students at a time and then patting themselves on the back. We want to move away from that kind of thing because it does not address the systemic problem.
Our third suggestion is the most out-of-the-box, radical suggestion. The context for this idea is that in 2000 minorities comprised a smaller portion of the freshman engineering class than they did in 1992, which means that in five years they are going to comprise a smaller portion of the graduating class. At the same time, we are trying to double the number of minorities in science and engineering. Last night, our dinner speaker, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, suggested that we declare a national state of emergency and that we draft engineers into the nation’s service the same way we drafted young men into the armed services. If a child has strong math and science skills and we believe that he or she could be an engineer, then we would “draft” that person. We would make sure he or she understood that being an engineer would be in the national interest. Mary Mattis of Catalyst mentioned that they had long thought of the shortage of engineers as a national security issue, and I have heard other people say that this idea came home to them on September 11. This is a national security issue, and we have to get it onto the national radar screen. We tried to look at the problem from 30,000 feet up
rather than from the ground. We tried to stay away from details, but we know we will have to offer incentives. If we are going to encourage a young person to study engineering, we have to provide some incentives.
Another thing that can be done is for companies to commit themselves to lifelong training. The fact is that not enough people are graduating with engineering degrees. There are, however, enough people, or at least many more people, who graduate with the skills to become engineers. Joel Harmon of Shell Oil said that they have a lot of chemists, perhaps too many chemists (if one can ever have too many chemists). Shell brings those people on board and after their first year trains them to be chemical engineers. Those kinds of human resource strategies could take us a long way toward meeting our human resource needs.